Patrick Kinahan: Losing Rose Bowl doesn’t mar Utah’s incredible accomplishments

Patrick Kinahan: Losing Rose Bowl doesn’t mar Utah’s incredible accomplishments

PASADENA, Calif. — Let’s revisit my recent story on the four Ohio State NFL prospects tainting the Rose Bowl by sitting out the game to avoid injury.

The red-hot subject touched more than a few nerves, considering the piece settled inside the top 10 most viewed on the state’s leading website, KSL.com, for all of 2021. Lead ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit and Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, to name two, spoke out against the general idea of skipping a bowl to, in theory, prepare for the NFL draft that is held nearly four months after the game.

Every person has an opinion, a common theme on virtually all affairs in this country’s current climate. Good for you, you and you.

Now back to me.

This isn’t the time and place to debate personal decisions, even if it is a national story. Every discussion of it in this case cheapens the accomplishments of the Utah football program this season.

The point here is to praise a team that persevered through typical and also rather severe obstacles this season. No doubt about it, this season was unlike any in program history.

Ponder this for a bit: The story of two players dying in the last year is well-documented, but strictly from a football perspective, this team overcame a miserable start and numerous injuries to win the Pac-12 championship for the first time. The Utes were so desperate for a healthy cornerback they were forced to play running back Micah Bernard at the position and were forced to use walk-on quarterback Bryson Barnes after Cam Rising got injured late in the game.

Oh, sure, Ohio State kicked a chip-shot field goal with nine seconds left in the game to beat Utah 48-45 on college football’s most famed venue Saturday before a partisan Utah crowd of 87,842. Credit the Buckeyes, most especially quarterback C.J. Stroud, with an impressive offense that Utah could not slow when it mattered the most.

“Yeah, we’re all disappointed we didn’t win the game,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “That’s the way life goes.”

Yeah, yeah, we know all about the inordinate number of injuries that befell Ohio State, which played without multiple starters on both sides of the ball. Then there’s those future NFL’ers who blew off college football’s grandest tradition, in part prompting Herbstreit to say on GameDay, “I think this era of play just doesn’t love football.”

The former Ohio State quarterback later took to Twitter in backing off his statement to a degree, mixing in “some” players don’t love the game. Whatever.

No sense in predicting the outcome based on the full strength of both teams. It’s anybody’s guess.

Here’s the prevailing truth: sixth-ranked Ohio State was slightly better than the No. 11 Utah. Any speculation otherwise is a great disservice to both teams.

The thought the Buckeyes weren’t interested in playing the bowl game was ridiculous and ignorant. They showed as much, running out on the field when Utah returner Britain Covey was tackled to end the game on the final play of his storied college career.

Obviously, nobody can ever question Utah’s desire to compete. Practically in shock after the game, several players walked solemnly off the field into the locker room with tears running down their faces.

‘Proud of our guys,” said Whittingham. “Absolutely nothing to hand their heads about.”

Well, maybe there is one thing. Utah’s defense was absolutely dreadful to the point Stroud broke Rose Bowl records for yards passing (573 yards) and touchdowns (six). Jaxon Smith-Njigba obliterated the game’s receiving records with 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns.

No quarterback in the Pac-12 came close to performing as Stroud did against the Utes. Smith-Njigba showed why he was more productive than the two receivers who opted out of the game.

“It’s absolutely very frustrating to come up short,” said Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd. “But that doesn’t take away from everything we accomplished.”

No, it doesn’t.

Utes in the Pros: Week 18 Preview, Week 17 Recap

Utes in the Pros: Week 18 Preview, Week 17 Recap

Six former Utes and their respective teams currently have playoff spots locked up.

SALT LAKE CITY – For the first time in NFL history, the league enters week 18 for the regular-season finale. This officially marks the longest season ever and includes a full weekend of games starting with a double-header on Saturday, Jan. 8th, on ESPN.

Former MVP Lamar Jackson did not practice on Wednesday for the Baltimore Ravens, opening up the possibility for Tyler Huntley to start his fourth game of his career. The Pittsburg Steelers (8-7-1) visit the Ravens (8-8) on Sunday as both teams are on the bubble fighting for a playoff berth.

Zack Moss, Star Lotulelei and the Buffalo Bills (10-6) have clinched a playoff berth and welcome Javelin Guidry and the New York Jets (4-12) on Sunday afternoon. Pro Bowler Matt Gay, Terrell Burgess and the Los Angeles Rams (12-4) have also clinched a spot in the playoffs as they host Mitch Wishnowsky and the San Francisco 49ers (9-7), who are still in the hunt. A win for the 49ers would be huge, especially if they could get some help from Francis Bernard and the Dallas Cowboys (11-5) who travel to Philadelphia for an NFC East division showdown.

Leki Fotu and the Arizona Cardinals (11-5) have clinched a playoff spot and go up against Cody Barton and the Seattle Seahawks (6-10) on Sunday afternoon.

How to watch your Utes in Week 18 (Active Players)

DateGameTime (MT)TVUtes to Watch
Sat., Jan. 8Kansas City at Denver2:30 p.m. ESPN#72 Garett Bolles (Denver)
Sun, Jan 9Green Bay at Detroit11 a.m.FOX#98 John Penisini (Detroit)
Sun, Jan 9Washington at NY Giants11 a.m.FOX#28 Devontae Booker (NY Giants)
#50 Nate Orchard (Washington)
Sun, Jan 9Chicago at Minnesota   11 a.m.FOX#33 Jaylon Johnson (Chicago)
Pittsburgh at Baltimore11 a.m.CBS#2 Tyler Huntley (Baltimore)
Sun, Jan 9San Francisco at LA Rams2:25 p.m.FOX#18 Mitch Wishnowsky (San Francisco)
#26 Terrell Burgess (LA Rams)
#8 Matt Gay (LA Rams)
Sun, Jan 9Seattle at Arizona2:25 p.m.FOX#57 Cody Barton (Seattle)
#95 Leki Fotu (Arizona)  
Sun, Jan 9New England at Miami  2:25 p.m.CBS#21 Eric Rowe (Miami)
Sun, Jan 9New Orleans at Atlanta2:25 p.m.FOX#43 Marcus Williams (New Orleans)
Sun, Jan 9NY Jets at Buffalo2:25 p.m.CBS#40 Javelin Guidry (NY Jets)
#20 Zack Moss (Buffalo)
#98 Star Lotulelei (Buffalo)
Sun, Jan 9LA Chargers at Las Vegas6:20 p.m.NBC#78 Jackson Barton (Las Vegas)

Week 17 Recap
Former QB1, Tyler Huntley, started his third game of his career on Sunday in place of an injured Lamar Jackson. In his three starts, Huntley is yet to find the win column and fell just one-point shy of earning his first win on Sunday against the Rams. In a tremendous effort, Huntley completed 20-32 pass attempts for 197 yards. Huntley continues to show how dangerous he can be outside of the pocket adding 54 yards on the ground.

Cody Barton played one of his best games as a professional collecting seven tackles, one tackle for loss and a pass deflection in the win against Detroit. On the other side of the ball, John Penisini had three tackles himself in the loss.

Jaylon Johnson saw game action for the first time since week 14 starting for the Chicago Bears at cornerback. Not missing a beat, Johnson had 4 tackles in the win against the New York Giants.

NFL Week 17 Stats

Player, TeamGameResultStats
Cody Barton, Seattlevs. DetroitW, 51-297 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PD
Garett Bolles, Denverat LA ChargersL, 34-13Started at LT
Devontae Booker, NY Giantsat ChicagoL, 29-3  18 rush, 46 yds, 2 rec
Terrell Burgess, LA Ramsat BaltimoreW, 20-19Played at FS
Leki Fotu, Arizonaat DallasW, 25-221 tackles
Matt Gay, LA Ramsat BaltimoreW, 20-190-1 FG, 2-2 XP
Javelin Guidry, NY Jetsvs. TampaL, 28-24Played at CB
Tyler Huntley, Baltimorevs. LA RamsL, 20-19Started at QB; 20-32, 197 yds, 6 rush, 54 yds
Jaylon Johnson, Chicagovs. NY GiantsW, 29-3Started at CB; 4 tackles
Star Lotulelei, Buffalovs. AtlantaW, 29-15Played at DT
Zack Moss, Buffalovs. AtlantaW, 29-155 rush, 39 yds, LNG 12 yds
Nate Orchard, Washingtonvs. PhiladelphiaL, 20-16Played at DE
John Penisini, Detroitat SeattleL, 51-293 tackles
Eric Rowe, Miamiat TennesseeL, 34-3  2 tackles
Mitch Wishnowsky, San Franciscovs. HoustonW, 23-74 punts, 159 yds (39.8 avg), LNG 52, 2 in 20
Tom Chambers to have jersey retired by University of Utah

Tom Chambers to have jersey retired by University of Utah

Tom Chambers will be the ninth former University of Utah men’s basketball star to have his jersey hanging in the Huntsman Center rafters, the school announced Thursday.

Chambers will be honored on Feb. 5, just two weeks after the late Wat Misaka has his jersey retired on Jan. 22. The Utes host Oregon on Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. MST.

“In the tremendous history of the Utah men’s basketball program, Tom Chambers holds a special place for the accomplishments he achieved both as a member of the program and throughout his All-Star career in the NBA,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement.

“He has brought distinction and positive recognition to the University of Utah by leading his team to two NCAA tournaments and achieving four NBA All-Star appearances over the course of his 16-year professional career. We are excited to have Tom and his family join us in the Huntsman Center to commemorate his incredible achievements by displaying his jersey among the greats in Utah Men’s Basketball history.”

The 6-foot-9 Chambers, who was born in Ogden, was a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference center for Utah from 1977-81. He helped the Runnin’ Utes advance to the NCAA Tournament twice, including reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 1981.

“I’m truly grateful and humbled that the U is going to honor me and my basketball career by putting my jersey up in the Huntsman Center,” Chambers said in a statement.

Chambers finished his Runnin’ Utes career with 1,698 points and 876 rebounds, which ranks ninth and 10th, respectively, in program history. He led Utah in scoring his final three seasons, including his senior year, when Chambers helped the Utes earn a share of the WAC title while he averaged 18.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

“I want to thank this great university, in particular Mark Harlan, for this becoming a reality,” Chambers said. “I have so many unforgettable memories and people that I will always cherish. My coaches, my friends, my extended family — made possible by the U. — and, of course, my terrific teammates. My family is loving this, as am I. Thank you and Go Utes!!”

Following his college career, Chambers was selected No. 8 overall by the San Diego Clippers in the 1981 NBA draft. He played 16 seasons as a power forward in the NBA, including suiting up for the Utah Jazz from 1993-95, played for the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals and was the 1987 NBA All-Star Game MVP.

Chambers now works as a studio analyst with Suns TV on Bally Sports Arizona.

Off record-setting season, Utes running back Tavion Thomas coming back

Off record-setting season, Utes running back Tavion Thomas coming back

SALT LAKE CITY — Citing “unfinished business,” starting running back Tavion Thomas is staying at Utah.

The single-season touchdown record holder at Utah announced Thursday his decision to stay after contemplating a potential move to pursue an NFL career after one season at a Power Five program. Thomas rushed for 1,108 yards and finished the season with 21 rushing touchdowns as the dominant back in Utah’s deep room.

But Thomas said he wanted to come back to Utah to earn his degree and “show kids where I’m from that it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

With Thomas back, in addition to tight ends Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid announcing their return for another season, Utah returns much of its production from its 2021 season, which finished 13 nationally in rushing and 14th in scoring offense.

“I love this city, I love these fans, and I’m looking forward to putting on the red and white for one more year,” Thomas said.

Thomas, who called the last year “nothing short of a blessing,” had a tumultuous start to his career at Utah after a fumbling problem left him out of the lineup until a Week 5 performance against USC where he rushed for 113 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries. From there, Thomas gained the confidence of his coaches and become the lead back in the room.

At one point in the season, the sophomore back had back-to-back weeks where he rushed for four touchdowns in a game and then followed it up with another three-touchdown performance a week later to total 11 touchdowns in a three-week period. In the end, Thomas was named to the All-Pac-12 first team and cemented an explosive offense for the Utes.

Prior to Utah’s appearance in its first Rose Bowl, Thomas said he hadn’t made up his decision about what he was planning to do but wanted to see his draft stock before deciding.

“So if I got to come back another year, I wouldn’t mind to,” Thomas said. ‘I would love to come back here. So I’m just going to wait until after the game after everything done, after the season.

“To be honest, I feel like I’ve grown — I really feel like I’ve grown up a lot, just handling my — handling situations way better than I was my freshman year. Just taking coaching more. Just, you know, just being a good teammate. So I feel like I’ve grown up a lot, though.”

Matt Richardson – Reshirt Senior Infielder

Matt Richardson – Reshirt Senior Infielder

2021 – Redshirt Junior
Played in 44 games on the season, starting 41 contests
Led the team and ranked fifth in the Pac-12 with a .360 batting average, adding 10 doubles, a triple, two homers and 28 RBI
Also was seventh in the league in OBP (.451)
Hit safely in eight straight games from May 1-15, with five of those contests featuring multiple hits
Had three different three-RBI games, the final coming in the win over Utah Valley (May 12)

2020 – Junior
Saw action in 12 games with 11 starts at shortstop
Had 10 walks, two RBI and scored seven runs, also went 2-for-2 on stolen bases
Went 2-for-4 scoring four runs in the final game of the year against Minnesota (March 8)
Scored the winning run against Kansas State (Feb. 23)

2019 – Sophomore
Started in 40 games of the 42 games he played, primarily at shortstop
Hit .250 on the season with eight multi-hit games and hits in 19 games overall
Had multiple RBI in five games and finished with 17 total RBI on the season
Scored multiple runs in four games
Career-high with three RBI against Western Carolina (March 2) and Oregon (March 31)
Hit his first career home run against Oregon (March 31)
Closed the season going a combined 6-for-8 against UC Davis in the final two games of the season (May 24-25)

2018 – Freshman
Played in 49 games with 48 starts at shortstop, logging a .236 batting average with 23 RBI, 39 hits and 18 runs scored
Slugged .303 in part through six doubles, one triple and one home run
Nine multiple-hit games and five multiple-RBI games
Went 3-of-7 with the bases loaded and ranked ninth in the Pac-12 with 134 defensive assists
Hit 4-for-9 with a triple over two games of a Santa Clara doubleheader (March 4)
Was 2-for-4 against UNLV (March 12)
Three RBI with a hit against Sacramento State (March 24)
Hit .308 (4-of-13) and drove in four runs against No. 1 Oregon State, including three hits in game three of the series with an RBI in every game (March 29-31)
Was 2-for-3 with three RBI in the second game against Cal (April 7)

Prior to Utah
Three-time all-league at Helix HS, earning first-team honors as a junior and senior
Two-time All-East County, earning first-team honors as a junior
Hit .374 as a senior with 20 RBI, three home runs, a .515 slugging percentage and a .480 on-base percentage
Helix finished second in the CIF San Diego Open Section in 2017

Sports photos of the year: 2021

Sports photos of the year: 2021

What a year 2021 was for Utah sports, and Deseret News photographers were right there, giving readers a front-row seat, literally, to all the action. It was a welcome contrast to 2020, when photographers needed to maintain their distance at sporting events due to the ongoing pandemic.

For most of 2021, fans were back in the stands and our photographers were once again on the sidelines, able to document up-close the efforts and emotions of Utah athletes as well as you, the fans.

We wrap up the year looking back at 30 of the best Deseret News sports images from 2021. Enjoy.

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Utes have a corners problem, so how will they matchup against Ohio State’s receivers?

Utes have a corners problem, so how will they matchup against Ohio State’s receivers?

SALT LAKE CITY — In the final minutes of the Pac-12 championship game, with Utah securely in the lead over Oregon and a conference title within reach, cornerback Zemaiah Vaughn went down with an injury.

The injury itself was an afterthought to the excitement on the field as Utah claimed its first Pac-12 title in program history. Players and coaches hugged and shed happy tears as the team celebrated with roses in their hand and between their teeth — the coveted Rose Bowl was near.

In the days that followed, Vaughn announced on social media he had successful surgery and was on the road to recovery — but not before the Rose Bowl. And though just one player on the team, Vaughn served as the latest in a string of injuries in the cornerback room

Utah lost veteran corner JaTravis Broughton to a season-ending injury after the second week of play against BYU and then lost backup Faybian Marks to a season-ending injury in the Arizona game.

For a defense that was already young and relatively inexperienced, losing all three players for the season leaves Utah with few options ahead of a difficult matchup against three of the best receivers in the country, including Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. That leaves just Clark Phillips III and Malone Mataele as the most experienced players left to combat the trio of receivers.

To their credit, Phillips has been a trusted lockdown corner that’s typically been paired against a team’s leading receiver, and Mataele has split time at the cornerback position and at nickel to add depth to a defense that traditionally prides itself on a man coverage. But behind them is few answers.

On the roster, Utah has five scholarship corners, but only freshman, Caine Savage, has taken snaps at corner at the collegiate level — three snaps in the final minutes of the Pac-12 championship game. Redshirt freshman LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson and freshman Kenzel Lawler have special teams reps, and redshirt freshman Drew Rawls and freshmen Elisha Lloyd haven’t taken any snaps this season.

That’s a tall order for any one of those five players, assuming Utah hasn’t moved over players from other positions to fill the need. Cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah said no players have been permanently asked to switch positions, but head coach Kyle Whittingham said they’ll do whatever they can to have the best five players in the secondary out there.

“We’ve asked folks to do more, but we haven’t asked anybody yet to change your position,” Shah said. “We’ve been pushing and asking our kids that are here to know a little bit more — my nickel has to play outside corner, the safety has to be able to play the nickel — so that’s been the biggest thing right now.”

But could that mean utilizing one or more of the safeties? What about wide receivers? Or even any of the running backs?

All is seemingly on the table as Utah prepares to combat Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, who finished fourth in the latest Heisman vote, and his trio of dynamic playmakers. But Shah said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley “continuously puts us in good positions” and will do what’s best for the secondary in a way to help them succeed.

That will likely mean less man coverage and more zone coverage — or it could mean more disguises to trick Stroud. Scalley has been effective this season in dialing up the right type of pressure and schemes to position his defense in a way to maximize their success, even if it may not always resemble a traditional Utah defense given the sheer number of younger players filling a majority of the positions.

“Just being able to keep them in a good mental state to recognize they’re a lot tougher than they ever thought they were,” Shah said.

The situation may look grim coming into the Rose Bowl with the depth tested, but it’s what Utah has done all season as it works to develop young players and give them an opportunity to succeed in their own realm. There have and will be mistakes, but Shah said it’s more about the ability to “win your battle and you’ll be OK.”

The challenge, he added, has everyone on the team excited.

“We’ve played good receivers, we just don’t happen to play all three of them at the same time,” Shah said. “So this does present a unique challenge for us, but no one backs away.

“I mean, these kids are talented — nobody denies that — but you have to beat us for four long quarters. … Having a short memory and being able to make plays against people who are touted to be awesome, who are perceived to be the best, all of that is what you live for as a college football player playing in a Power Five conference and against elite competition.”

In 2019, Utah faced a similar challenge against three NFL-caliber receivers in the program’s loss to USC in the Coliseum. Utah had, arguably, its best secondary in Whittingham’s tenure and the team struggled to contain the trio in Utah’s only loss of the regular season that year. It was a painful loss, but one that provided a blueprint for future scenarios.

But Shah said that 2019 team had “more seasoned kids” and the team was able to have “confidence in terms of structural schemes.” In 2021, it’s a bit of a patchwork to see what can work the best. The result may be better, or it may end in similar fashion to the 2019 game against the Trojans.

Shah said he’s at least able to coach that better now to help the players live to see another down and not get caught up on one mistake (or more).

#11 Utah Football Ready For Rose Bowl vs. #6 Ohio State

#11 Utah Football Ready For Rose Bowl vs. #6 Ohio State

THE GAME
The No. 11 University of Utah Football team will begin 2022 in Pasadena when they take on the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes in the 108th Rose Bowl. The game is set for a 2 p.m. PT/3 p.m. MT kick on Saturday, Jan. 1 on ESPN.

BOWLING
Utah is 17-6 all-time in bowl games, dating back to 1939 when the Utes beat New Mexico, 26-0, in the Sun Bowl. This will be Utah’s third appearance in a New Year’s Six Bowl, beating Pittsburgh (35-7) in the Fiesta Bowl in 2005 and Alabama (31-17) in the Sugar Bowl in 2009. The Utes are also 5-2 in bowl games since joining the Pac-12 Conference.

FOLLOW US!
Fans can get behind the scenes views and live updates during the game on social media by following the Utes on Twitter (@Utah_Football | @UtahAthletics) and Instagram (@UtahFootball | @UtahAthletics). Fans can also search #GOUTES and #UBOYZ on social media for conversations about Utah Football.  

NUMBERS TALK
•    With a win, Utah would earn its 11th victory of the season for Kyle Whittingham‘s third 11+ win season.   
•    With a win, Utah would win its third New Year’s Six Bowl and 18th bowl game overall.
•    Utah has 315 offensive first downs this season which ranks 14th nationally.      
•    Utah has averaged 216.1 rushing yards per game (13th in the FBS) while holding opponents to just 120.1 (20th in the FBS).   
•    Utah is one of six Power Five programs (only Pac-12 team) that is ranked in the top 30 in the FBS in scoring offense and scoring defense.
 
QUICK HITS
•    Utah is 11-3 in bowl games under the direction of head coach Kyle Whittingham.  
•    Whittingham became Utah’s all-time wins leader with Utah’s 38-7 win over No. 3 Oregon on Nov. 20. He is 144-69 during his time at Utah.
•    Utah has appeared in the College Football Playoff rankings 35 times, which is tied for seventh in the FBS (first among Pac-12 teams).
•    In Pac-12 games only, Utah led the league in scoring offense (37.2), total defense (332.0), touchdowns scored (45), total offense (454.89), rushing offense (240.78), rushing defense (111.3) and passing efficiency (145.7).
•    Utah received its highest CFP ranking (No. 11) after the Pac-12 Championship Game, the 10th time it has landed inside the top-12.
•    Utah has held seven of its opponents to under 100 yards rushing this season, including in four of the last five games.   
•    The Utes rank 11th in the FBS in team sacks (3.23) and 12th in team tackles for loss (7.4) per game.
•    Utah ranks eighth in the FBS in third down conversion percentage (.487), and is 14th in the FBS in first downs offense.        
•    Utah has eight consecutive years of winning seasons, dating back to 2014 and has finished with a winning season in 15 of Kyle Whittingham‘s 17 years as head coach.  

After losing two bowl games in a row, Kyle Whittingham, Utes aim to return to winning ways in Rose Bowl

After losing two bowl games in a row, Kyle Whittingham, Utes aim to return to winning ways in Rose Bowl

Utah’s last bowl victory came way back in 2017 — in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

As Utah gets ready for its first Rose Bowl appearance, against national power Ohio State, coach Kyle Whittingham’s track record in bowl games is well-known.

Under Whittingham, the Utes are 11-3 in bowl games, dating back to 2005. He is No. 3 nationally among active coaches in bowl victories, behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban (17) and North Carolina’s Mack Brown (14).

Unlike Saban and Brown, all 11 of Whittingham’s bowl wins have been accumulated at one school. Included in that win total is victories in the Fiesta and Sugar bowls. The Utes defeated Saban’s Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

The Rose Bowl marks Utah’s third overall appearance in a New Year’s Six Bowl.

“We’ve had a pretty good track record in bowl games. We have a process that we follow and adhere to. It’s been successful for us,” Whittingham said. “We’ll follow that just like we have in the other bowls we’ve played in. Not our first rodeo in that regard. … We’ve got a plan in place. Typically our guys do a great job preparing for a bowl game. We’re going to have to, with Ohio State as our opponent. We’re going to have great preparation to have a shot.”